Today as well-meaning people argue the merits of seat belts in school buses, I remember a time when the term “seat belt” was not in anyone’s vocabulary.
I rode the mile and a quarter from my home to the rural one-room schoolhouse balanced on a wooden box squeezed into the space behind the two-person seat on our pony-powered black buggy with red wheels and shafts. For safety measures, my dad told me to keep my legs inside the buggy so I wouldn’t fall out and get banged up on the gravel road between home and school.
Trixie, our Shetland pony, was a vital part of our family of animals. Each morning my seventh-grade sister, Inez, arranged the leather harness on Trixie’s back and then hooked her to the buggy. My dad had made arrangements with our neighbor for his daughter, Edna, to ride to school with us, so she got the prized seat next to my sister and I got the box in the back.
When we arrived before school started in the morning, my sister parked the buggy under the trees on the edge of the school property, unhooked Trixie and tied her to one of the many trees in the small grove by a long rope clipped to her halter. When the school day ended, Trixie was harnessed, backed between the shafts of the buggy, and the three of us rode home.
That’s what regularly happened until the day we left the schoolhouse at the end of the day to find the buggy parked under the trees, but no pony. Trixie had learned how to open the snap that locked her to the tree. Then came our dilemma. Should we walk home, knowing that the following morning only one of us would have a ride on Trixie’s back and the other two, probably including me, would walk to school?
For a half hour all the kids in school and the teacher stood around sharing opinions, until the final decision was made. We would pull the buggy home so we could all ride in it the next day. My sister got between the shafts and Edna and I pushed the buggy down the road. In retrospect we could have left the buggy under the trees and asked my dad to somehow bring it home, maybe pulling it attached to his car, but I don’t think any of us even considered that; solving our problems was a personal endeavor.
Pulling and pushing the buggy on a rough gravel road was difficult, and several times we stopped and the three of us sat in the long grass in the ditch catching our breath and wondering how Trixie had gotten free.
When we got home, tired and sweaty from our efforts, we found Trixie standing near the barn waiting for someone to let her through the gate so she could get to her food and water.
The following morning everything went as usual. Trixie was harnessed to the buggy, the three of us went to school and Trixie was tied to a tree. But at the end of the school day again there was a rope tied around a tree with no Trixie at the end of it. Again we dragged the buggy by kid power all the way home and again Trixie was waiting for us near the barn.
After three days of this my dad went to the hardware store and bought a snap that had to be twisted to secure it. It baffled Trixie but was also impossible for any of the kids to open, so each morning and evening, in sunshine or rain, our teacher was forced to add tying and untying a pony to her daily duties, but for the rest of my rural school days our buggy was pony-powered.
Even over the space and time between those grassy fields of Iowa and our paved cities of today, it still seems to me that mostly left to their own devices, most kids will take care of themselves and each other.
Phyllis Henry writes from Gig Harbor.